This post was written by Srina Lacet
December 2019 – There is unyielding power in igniting the spark of a woman’s fire. The trailblazing women political activists selected as fellows for the Vital Voices VVEngage Program – which gathered in Arizona in November to build connections, brainstorm solutions, and reflect on themselves and their mission as leaders in civil society – know that power. Throughout the week, these women inspired me by demonstrating how they use their perseverance, perspectives and passion to empower their communities and change the dynamics of our world.
Like many girls, throughout my life I was told that my input was not meaningful, necessary or powerful. It had gotten to the point where I started to believe it. I joined Vital Voices certain that I would find strength in my voice as well as the importance of my will to listen. As an intern for the Political and Civic Engagement Team, I had been studying these women for weeks while assisting with the preparation of the VVEngage gathering. After reading about their experiences and the work they had done in their communities, I knew that engaging with 23 influential leaders representing 20 countries was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I had to be a part of.
The energy was radiant, almost overwhelming, when I arrived in Arizona and met the fellows and trainers. During dinner on the first night, it felt surreal as I sat between Dalia Grybauskaite, the former President of Lithuania, and U.S. Michigan State Representative Rebekah Warren, having casual conversations with Members of Parliament from multiple countries about politics, international relations and gender equality. That is when I recognized the significance of my position: I had the opportunity to interact with women that I would end up calling my mentors by the end of the week.
As a future political activist, I understand the importance of having an educated worldview when delving into topics that address the rights and abilities of communities. Despite the contrast of their countries, VVEngage Fellows support each other in their leadership growth. Virginia Muradzikwa, a Member of Parliament in Zimbabwe, told me that they “come from different places, but the ultimate goal is to have more women in leadership and end the oppression of women.” During the program, I witnessed and participated in discussions that created connections beyond borders between women that want to make their communities and the world a better place.
VVEngage Fellows demonstrated the impact collaboration can have on the progress of a mission. Whether addressing the Sustainable Development Goals, identifying with Vital Voices’ Leadership Model, interacting with mentors and trainers, or road-mapping their plan for success, these women worked together to discover ways they could use their resources and each other to implement what they have learned to their communities.
During the week of training, we were able to welcome trainers from the Harvard Kennedy School who brought Marshall Ganz’s Public Narrative Training to us. The Public Narrative workshop was the most impactful part of the week for me, as I joined the fellows to explore the power of vulnerability and understand the importance of self-reflection.
Hearing them share their stories broke the mold, for many women in politics are torn down when showing any sign of weakness. They do not have the privilege of expressing their emotions without receiving criticism from constituents and the media. I struggle with this myself in fear of being called the ‘angry Black woman’ or being seen as the ‘victim.’ Their ability to share the stories of their past experiences, their people and their driving force – in a room that was ready and eager to listen – allowed them to recognize that they were not alone. The support from a network like the one the VVEngage Fellows formed throughout the week is an invaluable asset that I hope I can continue to be a part of.
By the end of the week, my confidence and motivation to continue my journey toward political activism had grown exponentially because of my interactions with women who epitomize leadership, altruism and dedication to improving the world as dynamic women leaders. I commend Vital Voices for allowing me to take part in equipping women with the intellectual power and resources to change the world. It is my mandate as a developing Black woman with passion for politics and public policy to take action on issues that affect the ability of minority communities to thrive. This experience has ensured that my fire to make these societal contributions will never be stifled.
Srina Lacet was a Political and Civic Engagement intern with our VVEngage program.